Saturday, September 9, 2017

Road Trip of a Lifetime - Off to Kentucky to View the Eclipse Totality

Although the Fort Wayne, Indiana area was destined to see a partial eclipse of the sun in August of 2017, I wanted to be able to see a total eclipse. So, I made plans to drive far enough south that I could take off my eclipse glasses and see the "wedding ring" or corona when the moon completely covered the sun. The sun's rays poking out around the moon in a total eclipse are also described as the 'diamond ring effect' and the ring of fire. This was the stuff of which legends were made. The United States wouldn't see another total eclipse until the year 2024, so it was time to seize the moment.

As early as April or May, I began pouring over maps that laid out the path of absolute eclipse totality across the United States. Although I'm familiar with Carbondale and Makanda, Illinois, to there would be a farther drive than to somewhere straight south. Those areas were also getting a lot of news coverage, so I thought traffic from Chicago to southern Illinois would be bad. Traffic jams were being predicted all over the ranges of the totality anyway, so probably no where was safe from tons of folks and cars.

I chose Franklin, KY, as our viewing site, and had to reserve a motel room in Bowling Green, which was about a half-hour drive away. Everything closer was booked. The day before the eclipse, on Sunday, my partner and I drove out past Indianapolis, Columbus IN, Louisville KY, Elizabethtown, and Mammoth Caves before stopping in Bowling Green. We would have booked a tour of Mammoth Caves since we were going right by there, but there was no availability. Our little motel was near the highway and a Corvette museum. There was also a Corvette factory nearby, which was good to see from an economic perspective.

We got up early the next morning, picked up some more food and water from a grocery store, and headed to our envisioned viewing site. Franklin KY is a town of about 8400 off of Interstate 65 and Route 100. I had read that the main venue for viewing there was supposed to be the drive-in theater, with scientists from Pasadena and other remote locales attending and setting up their telescopes. And as far as the whole trip, although Google maps reported it would take 5 1/2 hours travel time, it was actually much slower with road construction and lots of traffic. Hence, patience is a virtue and perhaps a requirement when driving to and from an eclipse event.

We found ourselves setting up camp at Freedom Pavilion near the boat ramp at West Fork Drakes Creek. We met people who had driven from Ontario, Canada, Indiana, and Ohio. One man had set up his canvas shade with frame and offered to share it along with him and his dog. He was from Dayton and had come alone - he said his wife was a school teacher and couldn't get away. We met some locals, and a young man that attached his hammock to a telephone pole and his truck. He said he had recently graduated from Purdue University and was on his way back from a trip to New Orleans.

It was a hot August day, so we decided to kill some time by taking a dip in the creek. There was no designated swimming area and the boat ramp was taken over by families with fishing tackle, so we figured we were going to have to bushwhack our way to the water. We changed into swimming suits and walked down a weedy, overrun path to the stream. Pushing out through a muddy, mucky bottom, we were finally free and floating downstream. The water was comfortably cool and we paddled around, enjoying ourselves as we commented about the fishing line hung up in the overhead power line. "What an out-of-control cast!", one of us said.

So, we dried off, killed some more time, chatted, snacked, and then: the murmur built through the crowd. "It's starting!" We put on our eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun. The glasses make everything so dark, it's impossible to see anything else through them. Then, there it was: the black moon taking a bite out of the orange sun. The darkness started to surreally creep into the sky, little by little. The breeze became cooler. The insects and birds seemed to vocalize about the same where we were, although we were told their sounds might intensify. People looked through telescopes and binoculars if they had the right filters. Some folks ineffectively tried to take cell phone photos, but this proved impossible without the correct equipment.

As the sky slowly got darker and darker, the existing light became more eerie. Apparently the moon blocking most of the sun's light serves to focus and intensify what still gets through. So shadows are strangely sharp even though the light is low. As totality approached, I was very excited and my partner was very calm. People began to cheer as the sun disappeared from the strong daylight. The cool came with a rush as the sky got dark as twilight. A few faint stars appeared, as did lights of planes filming high overhead. The whine of a couple drones could be heard in our area, as I'm sure they were filming the event as well.

Then, the big moment came: we took off our glasses. The site was beautiful and strangely surreal. The gaseous corona was sharply white at the edge of the black moon, with feathery wisps trailing off. It was magnificent. It made a human feel very small, just tiny in the space of things. Yet, it also helped one see his place in the universe, and was rewarding to experience and witness this kind of natural, eternal greatness. It seemed a two-and-half minutes suspended in time, for posterity.

As quick as it began, it was over, and the sun started to come back out. People began to pack up their stuff and start to leave, hoping to get ahead of traffic. Sadly, most of them would soon find themselves stuck on the long treks down the highways. But hopefully for most, the unpleasant crowd memories would quickly begin to fade, leaving the image of the bites of sun, and the beautiful white ring, surrounding the perfect black circle of our constant companion and friend moon - forever imprinted in our minds, hearts and dreams. It's a day I hope never to forget. For me, all the effort was worth it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Japanese Culture Highlighted at Allen County Downtown Public Library Festival

To help celebrate the United States' bicentennial in 1976, Mayor Ivan Lebamoff appointed a local committee to explore a sister-city relationship with Fort Wayne and an unknown, far-off city. Howard Chapman chaired the first committee.

Working through Sister Cities International, Fort Wayne learned Takaoka, Japan, was looking for a similar relationship, and might be a good match. A small delegation from Takaoka visited Fort Wayne to explore an alliance. In 1977, new Mayor Robert Armstrong led a team of 50 people to see Takaoka, and then sign an official agreement formalizing the alliance.

Dorothy Kittaka, current president of Sister Cities, said recently Japanese gardeners were sent to Fort Wayne in '77 with a master plan to construct a traditional Japenese garden. It was intended as a gift to 'the fort' and as a gesture of goodwill. It was constructed on the east side of the Performing Arts Center, near the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It was a lovely garden, but local gardeners didn't have the experience to maintain it correctly, and it languished.

Advice was sought from Japan about correcting the aesthetics, and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation staff trimmed and nurtured this Friendship Garden. The first local Cherry Blossom festival was held in 2006 to highlight the renewed garden and to celebrate Japanese culture and the sister-city relationship.

A few years ago, the festival was moved to the downtown library to take advantage of some indoor space for increased activites. This year, May 7 marked the 11th year of the festival. Activites include dancing, martial arts demonstrations, taiko drumming, and tea ceremonies. Origami, bonsai trees, t-shirts and kimonos are for sale, and Japanese food is very popular at the festival. There are competitions for anime (cartoon-like art), haiku poetry, and cosplay (people dressing up in character costumes).

Thousands of people attend the festival now, and it becomes pleasantly crowded. It's so fun to see both locals and foreigners dressed up in kimonos, marital arts costumes, and as furry animal characters. The event has a lovely, playful, international feel. Activities indoors and out make it all the more fun. Music includes classical, traditional, instrumental and vocal, pop and even karaoke acts.

Kites, flags and balloons ride the wind overhead during the festival. This was the 40th year Fort Wayne has had a relationship with its first sister city, and the affection of this beneficial arrangement only seems to grow with time.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day Featured Historian Stephen Feinberg at one of Fort Wayne's Temples

"Remember - lest we forget, and from this we learned nothing." This phrase was the title of the talk given by Stephen Feinberg, a former employee of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He has been a history teacher, author of books about the Holocaust, and is a Jewish history education expert. He spoke recently at the Fort Wayne temple on Old Mill Road as part of a public service for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

37 years ago, Congress unanimously passed a bill proclaiming April 24 as a day of national remembrance of the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of six million European Jews and others at the hands of Nazi Germany. The temple on Old Mill Road, in a beautiful neighborhood near Foster Park on Fort Wayne's south side, is home to the Congregation Achduth Vesholom. In the literature provided, it is stated this congregation is Indiana's oldest of such, first established in 1848.

Mr. Feinberg proved to be a vibrant and sensitive speaker, providing detailed information with nuance and finding relevant context to the present time. One of his themes of focus was technology: how uses of such can be for bad, as well as good, purposes. He said, for example, that the invention and then use of punch cards in the early 1900's allowed not only the United States to streamline its census process, but also for Nazi bureaucrats to swiftly identify Jews by their reported religion and country of origin.

His story wove together a confluence, a perfect storm (although I would rather say a very imperfect storm) of congruent events which led to the rise of Nazism and the subsequent murder of millions of people. Feinberg said of course, not only Jews were murdered, but first mentally and physically disabled Germans themselves, in concentration camp gas chambers. Some were simply starved or shot instead. Other groups deemed unworthy, including homosexuals, gypsies, and people of "undesirable" nations, were also singled out for death.

Mr. Feinberg spoke about factors such as a long-term history of anti-semitism in Europe, and the growth of nationalism, militarism, and industrialism, as contributing to how these atrocities came together. Unemployment and the collapse of the stock market and German currency, all led to Hitler's rise under this disillusionment by German citizens. Between 1933 - 1943, Jews and others were deprived of their rights, Czechoslovakia and Poland were invaded, and World War II started. Mass factory-style murders were conducted in killing centers, but Allied Forces finally defeated German (and Japanese) forces, and camps were liberated by the end of the war in 1945.

It was heartening to see the participation by student groups at this public event of recognition and remembrance. Classes from West Noble Middle School, Wayne New Tech High School, and New Haven High School all had art and research projects on display at the reception following. Some of these can be seen in the photos above.

The music group Heartland Sings performed songs from the Holocaust Cantana, and also music featured in the film Schindler's List. Poignant, piercing music rose from a cellist and a soprano soloist, who made her voice soar in the synagogue. Other local luminaries including Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer contributed to the program, as did Dr. Patricia Rodda from the IPFW Institue for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

A new center for Jewish culture and history will be opened at the site, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, the temple itself, and other partners. A grand opening for the new Madge Rothschild Resource Center will be held Sunday, April 30, beginning at 2 p.m. The center will house a library available to the public, a memorial museum, and meeting space. Philanthropist Rothschild was the last direct descendant, a great-grandchild, of one of the families who founded the synagogue in 1848.

What impressed me, or what was reinforced, was a lesson in how important it is at times to not stand back and be silent. It's applicable today in everything from national politics and corporate whistle-blowing, to schoolyard and Internet bullying. One of the last quotes shared at the gathering was one by the genius Allbert Einstein. He said, "the world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Redbud Trees are One of the Best Spring Gifts in Indiana

At this time in April, I see the sight I have been long awaiting: the tiniest glint of pink, glowing from the dark-barked trees. The glow and glory increases a little each day until by now, the redbuds radiate their soft colors - sometimes more pink or purple, sometimes more rosy, magenta, or garnet.

Redbuds are different from other ornamental trees. Lovely fruit trees, or dwarf flowering trees and bushes, are often pruned and given symmetrical shapes. There's nothing wrong with that. But the often short, twisted trunks, and spreading branches of the redbuds have so much character and individuality. They are often hiding on the edge of wooded areas, or taking advantage of the shade underneath a large fir or spruce. They grace the creek beds and river edges in my area.

If you were to pick a route in northern Allen County this time of year, you would see a lot of them. St. Joe Road driving north out of Fort Wayne would be a good way to go to spy some. I also see many along North Clinton Street between Leo and Fort Wayne, and along Tonkel Road, especially near the creeks and streams.

Only Oklahoma claims the redbud to be its state tree. That's ok - I might claim it to be my personal tree mascot. The dark bark starts smooth, then as the tree gets older the bark may get scaly and ridged: even zigzag. I think they grow slowly, but tree literature describes the growth pattern as medium. Redbuds usually only grow to be 20-30 feet tall, and have a 30-foot spread at the crown on a large tree.

A ten-year-old tree might be sixteen feet tall. After flowering, simple leaves come out heart-shaped. They begin green and turn yellow in the fall. Pods, brown pea pods, erupt in August or so, and some birds eat them, or eat bugs they find on the bark. Sometimes the red flowers even pop out on the trunks or stems of the tree. Regular bees aren't able to pollenate redbuds, but carpenter bees and blueberry bees do.

I find these trees fascinating. Their trunks often divide close to the ground. The crowns may be funnel shaped or are often flat-topped. Something I read reported they are a tree of the pea family, which makes sense considering their long brown seed pods. George Washington wrote in his diary about transplanting seedlings into his garden from nearby forests. It makes me feel good to know our first President thought so highly of them.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved the trees also: he planted them both at his "little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia, and at his estate in Hyde Park, New York. Cercis canadensis (redbuds' Latin name) doesn't grow west of Kansas: it needs the precipitation of the East and Midwestern U.S. I will gaze and gaze, finding a wonderful sight to treasure, linger upon and absorb in our flighty, distracted world. Nature such as this is so beautiful, and can bring us so much joy and gratitude. Some treasures are just out there, waiting to be enjoyed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ege Catholic Cemetery is Another Wonderful Piece of Northeast Indiana History

I transition here with one last photograph, the top one, of Notestine Cemetery and its classical old headstones. The second photo was taken by me in the still-used Ege Catholic Cemetery in LaOtto, Indiana - Noble County. Here is a lovely marble representation of the Virgin Mary as she looks over the peaceful, old, and new, graveyard.

I love how people have decorated this current cemetery with wind chimes, figurines, sun catchers, and solar decorative lights. Have you seen these little lights that people are putting in their yards and gardens? They absorb sunlight during the day, and then when it starts to get dark, they glow and change colorfully. It's so sweet to now see them near graves in cemeteries.

Websites have made wonderful records of those buried in many American graveyards. You can live states away or across the country, and find ancestors or long lost relatives far away. Often there are photos of the headstones and even old photos or portraits of people available to view. Many more modern gravestones even include contemporary color photos right on the headstones themselves.

I skimmed a website to see who was buried at Ege Cemetery. There are 560 grave sites recorded. The oldest "resident" I found was Valenty Ciesielska, born in 1782. I double-checked the website, which, surely enough, says that Valenty died in 1889, making him 107 years old! Could that really be true? I don't know, but if there's an error, it isn't mine. There is also a George Blaski, who was born in 1835 and lived to be 97. Impressive, considering the hardships of the time.

Impressive women can be found as well. Crescentia Hottinger was born in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, and died in 1912 in Ege, Indiana. There is an old portrait of her on the website. She bore eight children who made it into adulthood. It's hard to say if there were more that didn't survive.

I was also fascinated by the grave of Franciszka Jarzebska, who was born in 1842 and died in 1916. She was born in Kowalewo-Pomorskie Poland and died in Indiana. She had ten siblings: Marianna, Paulina, Catarzyna, Elizbieta, Rozalia, Tekla, Ignancy, Melchoir, Jozef and Felicjan. She married, and had nine children of her own.

My interest in graveyards is new. I think what we like and care about sometimes changes over the course of our lives. As the world becomes more technical and computerized, I become more interested in the tactile, sensory, real things around me. I love my technical tools, but I also want to maintain my old physical connections to the world.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Notestine Cemetery is One of Several Old Graveyards in the area

On the river side of St. Joe Road, about one-tenth of a mile east of Notestine Road in Allen County north of Fort Wayne, is a beautiful old graveyard on a hill by the river. There is a home adjacent, so a person needs to be careful so as not to disturb the homeowners. The cemetery is small, and no longer in use, but it is an excellent location to study old stones or to do some genealogical research. Many cemeteries or graveyards are documented on line these days, so a person can look up their ancestors or simply read about the folks who are buried there.

According to the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter NSDAR, Notestine cemetery was documented in this way in 2008. Many very old graves were found, including some of people who had been born in the 1700s. Some of the sentiments inscribed on some of the tombstones are very touching. It gives us a glimpse into the sometimes short, sometimes long lives of the "residents" who have passed on.

For example, at the grave of Mary Coleman, who died in 1876 at the age of 35 years, this is inscribed on her stone: Dearest Mary, thou hast left us. Here thy loss we deeply feel, but 'tis God that has bereft us. He can all our sorrows heal.

Furthermore, Selden, a 2 1/2 year old son of hers, died in 1870. On his tombstone is inscribed: sleep, Selden, sleep Sleep sweet beneath the sod. For while we look upon your grave, your spirit rests with God.

There are many grave sites for children - we take for granted how for the most part, our lives are much longer than those who came before us. There were twin sons, first names of Andrew and Jackson. One died at 6 years, the other at only one year, eight months. For that child, the inscription reads: lovely babe, how brief thy stay. Short and hasty was thy day.

Walking along, I saw a grave for a 13-year-old, and one for an eleven-year-old, among the fall leaves still blowing about before the onset of spring. I saw graves for daughters of the Grubb family: a 9-month-old, a 1-month-old, and then the mother herself, who died years later at age 55. Some families were silent on their stones, some were fond of poetry. One read: a little flower of love that blossomed but to die. Transplant not above to bloom with God on high.

For one wife was written: call not back the dear departed, anchored safe where storms are. On the border land we left them, soon to meet and part no more.

I was happy to find not all the deceased had died young. Charles and Margaret Shriner were born in 1795 and 1783 respectively. These old timers had emigrated from New Jersey to Indiana, and the gentleman lived to the ripe old age of 86. Good for him. I bet if you did a little work and research, you could find an old cemetery like Notestine near you, and you could do a little exploring and wondering for yourself. The world awaits.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Conversations at the Dentist's Office

I couldn't resist publishing this photo I took of Fort Wayne's downtown at twilight. The grand old courthouse, the tall buildings, the glow of the street lamp all look inviting from the large picture windows of the Hoppy Gnome restaurant.

Very near here in Fort Wayne, because of its relatively high elevation, the Wabash and Erie Canal was initiated on Feb. 22, 1832. Irish and German immigrants dug ditches some places 60 feet wide and six feet deep, using pick axes, shovels, and horses to help clear trees and pull stumps. Many men died during the construction due to accidents and disease. By about 1874, the era of canals was over - giving way to the transportation power of the railroads.

As humans, there are other kinds of canals with which we are familiar. Some of these are the dental kind: root canals. There are also other kinds of digging tools: dental tools. So here I segue to my topic of dentistry.

I like my dentist. I think he does a good job. I think he and his staff have very competently taken care of my teeth. But sometimes I'm amazed at the conversations we have in the office. The dentist seems to have a good social sense of what is okay to talk about casually, but the hygienist just doesn't know where not to cross the line. I've had one ask me why I was so dressed up when I came to my appointment. I'm not always dressed up, but I had a meeting that day. Would they ask that of a man who showed up in a suit?

They've asked me where I'm planning to go on vacation. Do I have any plans for spring break? I guess they are bored cleaning teeth all day. Maybe they are trying to put me at ease. Maybe the average woman is happy to make conversation like this. But my mouth is occupied with instruments, a spit straw, and fingers. The hygienist has to wait for me to answer her questions. It would be easier for her to talk and me to listen - she doesn't have tools in her mouth.

One time, I became aware of the fact there is more than medical history in my file. Someone must have been also jotting down personal information about me as well. I remember being asked some details about my work at one time, then six months later, these specific details were brought up to me again - someone had to be taking notes. None of it was relevant to my visit to the dentist.

This time, questions were not only about my daughter, but what school she was going to, what her major was, where was she going to live next year, whether she would be moving into an apartment with her current roommate, etc. It's hard to figure out how to stop answering these questions without offending someone. I don't even know the hygienist's name - certainly not her last name. Yet, she knows all these details about me. I'm going to have to figure out how to turn the tables somehow, toward her. The thing is, I'm really not that rude, or unkind. I don't want to be that nosy with her, with anyone.

I'm sure she's a nice person, and doesn't mean any harm. But this has left me guarded. I could bring it up with the dentist, but that might harm her job or leave me vulnerable. Maybe I'll just start telling stories - invent an alternate persona. I could come up with an elaborate alter-ego and keep some notes of my own! This is starting to sound like fun! If I have any breakthroughs regarding this, I'll be sure to keep you posted. Maybe just drooling and spitting more would be enough.

Hairdressers can be bad about this also. Men tell me women who cut their hair ask lots of personal questions. I guess those of us who don't like it just have to figure out how to stand up for ourselves. But it's hard to stop the ball once it's rolling. I'll just wish myself luck, and strength.